I usually review previously released movies that are cult-classics and/or could use more attention. The reason why I’m writing about this commercially successful new movie is because its franchise has its detractors, and many who don’t have kids will avoid it. Allow me to try to convince them, but in order to do so, I’m going to have to spoil it.
Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has been racing for some time now, long enough to start noticing a change at the starting line: a new generation of racecars that use science, numbers and money to achieve incredible results, spearheaded by prick rookie sensation Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). Soon, he was the only one left of his type, as others retired from the sport disheartened or just plain fired for not performing accordingly. Not wanting to fade away, Lightning pushes his tires too far. The successive blowout sends him through the air, wrecking him badly.
4 months later, Lightning -fixed but hidden away watching old movies, still in primer- decides that it will be himself that will decide when he’s finished racing, not somebody else, like what happened with his late mentor Doc Hudson (the late Paul Newman, using previously unused voice recordings). But he’ll need a new form of training.
In order for Lightning to reach the next level, the owners of Rust-eze sell the company. Under the direction Sterling (Nathan Fillion), Rust-eze has now become a powerhouse for new talent and Lightning’s return. But with a ridiculously light training regime and then an accident on the simulator, Sterling doesn’t want to let Lightning race, instead, he wants him to become just the face of the company (product endorsement). Lightning convinced Sterling that if he didn’t win the next race, he’ll do as he says. This was agreed on one condition: Lightning was to take her trainer, the young, energetic and slightly annoying Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).
With an emphasis to train out in the open on historical venues where Doc raced rather than treadmills, Lightning had his work cut out for him, not because he was rusty, but because Cruz couldn’t keep up with him in sandy conditions. When Lightning finally achieved a run, it showed that he couldn’t break the 200mph barrier, a speed that Jackson Storm surpasses with ease on every record-shattering attempt.
The next place was a dirt track, so with Lightning covered in mud and a new alias to not raise public awareness, he enters the race… which turns out to be a demolition derby. And Cruz got stuck in it as well. Lightning quickly teaches how to drift on dirt turns -which she got the hang of – so to survive the sheer insanity. With Lightning suffering a shredded tire, Cruz won, but the mud washed out, exposing Lightning to the public. During the ride home, Lightning lashes out at Cruz. Cruz gets off and tells him that she wanted to be a racecar more than anything, until her first race convinced her that she wasn’t.
With a phone call from Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) providing a flash of genius, Lightning headed towards Doc’s old hometown, convincing Cruz to join them. They were going to meet Doc’s old crew chief Smokey (Chris Cooper). Lightning talked with him about Doc, his bold racing moves, the accident and what it did to him, etc., to which Smokey added to the fact that Lightning himself is the reason why Doc found happiness after his racing career, as his trainer.
Smokey and the rest of his and Doc’s old friends -living legends in their own right- train Lightning, with Cruz along for the ride. While Lightning does achieve the training regime, Cruz accidentally steals the accomplishment in the heat of the moment, hollowing the victory. But time’s up, and they had to go to the race.
During the race, Lightning drives consistently, but after seeing Cruz being treated as only a lowly trainer, he’s reminded of what she said before, what she wanted to be, and the amount of talent that she has. Lightning gets ahold of Cruz and switches places with her (a legal technicality allows it) with Lightning and Smokey guiding her on the radio. Even Jackson Storm’s trash talk couldn’t shaker her, as this was used in her favor to motivate her to push through. Cruz wins the race against a now desperate Storm –who resorted to smashing her against the wall- using one of Doc’s boldest moves. Cruz’s victory is Lightning’s victory (another legal technicality).
Tex Dinoco (H.A. ‘Humpy’ Wheeler), owner of rival team Dinoco, not only hired Cruz, he also bought Rust-eze from Sterling. While Lightning says that he wasn’t quitting racing, he was content with helping out Cruz train.
Cars 3 is, you guessed it, the third movie of Disney/Pixar’s Cars franchise, not counting spin-offs, specials and miniseries. It’s the most commercial of its franchises as well, with wave after wave of toy releases long after movies have left theaters. The first one was a clear hit for all ages with its simple story, which may have been told before. Cars 2 took it to a whole new level, showing a more international flair. Unfortunately, it also got a little too serious and having Mater on lead role was not for everyone. If one didn’t think highly of the first one, the second one was an insult. Very few looked forward for yet another Cars sequel while anxiously waiting for a Helen Parr The Incredibles sequel. But Cars 3 returns to back to basics. I’m willing to go as far as to say that it white-washes Cars 2, as I didn’t see or hear any reference to it at all.
Back to basics meant that it focused once again on Lightning McQueen, his struggles in his sport, and what he did to overcome it, unable to do so alone if it wasn’t for the help and life lessons of his friends. The clips of Doc Hudson racing, whether through a projector, or a more solid flashback, are highlights of the film. In fact, the entire Thomasville part is great, from the characters and their designs rich in stock car racing lore and historical significance. If you’ve been raised with issues of Hot Rod Magazine, you’ll have a ball identifying all the references of NASCAR’s rich early automotive history. My jaw dropped when I saw the Smokey Yunick reference, and that’s just one of ‘em! The entire movie still mixes automotive themes in their backgrounds, so keep an eye out for ‘em. Then there’s the way the film looks. Pixar knows how to make CGI scenery (one very good reason to watch The Good Dinosaur), and this one didn’t disappoint.
As expected from Pixar, Cars 3 talks about a topic that most kid-friendly animated films don’t usually go for, in this case aging, particularly when sports are involved. There comes a point where not even experience is enough. All athletes face this one way or another, with examples quickly given when Lightning’s colleagues start being replaced. The movie explores what to do next. Seeing that he had a chance to go on, Lightning McQueen chose to continue despite the challenges that laid ahead, but learned that happiness can be found afterwards, like Doc did, who didn’t have a choice but to retire from the sport he loved so much. There’s also a message that while technology has its place, getting out and doing the real thing, as well as heeding the advice of those that have come before, is irreplaceable.
Personally, I found that the movie delivered. It’s still very much directed to kids and it wasn’t perfect -the first one is still the best- but Pixar delivered what I believe to be the true sequel to the first Cars.
Yes, there’s an after-credit scene. With Mater. Do your bladder a favor and skip it.
Opening pic: Twitter